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#media140 – Pat Kane keynote speech: Back to basics for journalism industry

April 13th, 2011Posted by in Events, Online Journalism

Writer, musician and activist Pat Kane opened the #media140 conference today, with a keynote speech focusing on the relationship between traditional news organisations and new media, on both an editorial and business level.

He told the audience that journalists and news organisations are having to decide between the model of the open web, or “move back” to a closed, paid-for network. Or he added, find ways to mix the two.

Newspapers are trying to figure out basic problems of economic survival. There seem to be two pathways opening up, two models to pursue for journalism to survive. One is the move started by Rupert Murdoch initially, with the Times and Sunday Times. He has decided that the age of the free lunch, or free information lunch, for news and the web is over, and wants to try and claim back some of the revenue which has been lost.

On the other side is the Guardian – their attitude is embrace the new open free sharing web, they said let’s use that as a resource for the paper rather than an enemy of the paper.

… At the very least we can say in the current climate and relationship between new media and journalism that there are two quite distinct paths. It is an open question as to what is going to be the best.

He said the open web nature of many news outlets today is “economically troubling, but culturally fantastic”.

Kane, who helped start up the Sunday Herald newspaper in 1999, also discussed the challenges facing traditional news outlets on an editorial basis, such as that in part it “returns journalism back to a sense of its basic ethics”, why are we doing journalism, he asked. Or as he later concludes, new media gives journalists “a boot up the arse”.

Journalism isn’t marginal, it becomes central to the health of an information society. It becomes what you do to keep the society healthy. The problem is for professional journalists, is it becomes a general function of dynamic engaged citizenship. It becomes a new requirement of citizenship, rather than a job paid for by classified ads and about recycling press releases.

Illustrating his point early on with videos filmed by civilians on the ground in countries such as Bahrain, capturing for example protestors being shot as it occurred – “it’s not journalism, its anthropology”, he said.

It could only have been recorded by someone participating in that moment. But what’s interesting is that I found them on a blog on the NewYorker.com. Traditional organisations can still provide a frame for the image and a context for the text.

Quoting social media consultant Joanne Jacobs, he said: “In a world of players and publishers, the only remaining scarcity is referees and editors”, and this, he said, is the strength of an institution, to bring such footage and news to the attention of a busy professional who wants to go to the right place to find the right information. This is the role for journalism, conceived in a new media world, he added.

And if editing and curation is scarce, we should be able to make money out of it, he added, returning to the ongoing question of the business of traditional media in the new media environment. Responding to a question asking if the journalism industry is going “back to square one” in terms of editorial control, he said on he contrary, the internet has brought down many of the barriers to becoming an ‘editor’ in the first place.

Yes the internet is anarchic, and rightly so, but there’s also a concept called heterarchy, which means a lot of structures – as well as chaos. Editorial need to think of itself more ambitiously and not get hung up on normal organisational forms.

The full presentation is available here.

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